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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
A few months ago, I stumbled across Adventure Time, an animated series on Cartoon Network. I only watched a few small bits as I generally am not interested in kids’ cartoons. Most are incredibly hard to watch due to their (understandably) juvenile nature. Over time, I started to watch more and more of it. I was sucked in. What struck me about the show was how sophisticated much of the writing was. It was silly, but also heartfelt. Adventure Time had edge, but never went over that edge. It reminds me a lot of pre-cancellation Futurama (the fact that John DiMaggio voices the same type of character on both shows probably influences this opinion).
Naturally, I started watching Adventure Time’s sister show, Regular Show. Though I appreciate the ridiculousness of it, I cannot quite get into the program as I could with Adventure Time. To be honest, I find many of the side characters of Regular Show to be obnoxiously unlikeable.
In any event, I was taken with these fifteen minute cartoons. But one thought keeps lingering on my mind: who is the audience for them? I was shocked to learn there is a huge online following for Adventure Time and Regular Show. I guess I can understand why – both shows have fascinating settings and, in Adventure Time’s case, a fully realized, lived-in world. Where these programs aimed at an older audience? These shows are only one swear word away from being right at home in Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. What was the decision making process to put them on prime-time for kids and families? The content of Adventure Time and Regular Show are so “in between” that I do not know what to truly classify them as.
I guess, like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, this is the reason why they are so successful. They can bridge the game between kid and adult programming. A parent can sit down with their child and not be embarrassed with what they are watching and get some enjoyment out of it as well. Additionally, kids can watch something amusing which does not talk down to them. As a bonus, kids are introduced to themes and concepts absent everywhere else when it comes to children’s programming (such as the lesbian subtext present in an episode of Adventure Time).
I think that is largely the reason why this show has maintained the type of popularity it has. It can bring families together, in a why. Much like how Pixar does with their films, Adventure Time and Regular Show are not afraid to bring mature ideas and surrealism to their storylines.
I think other shows shy away from doing that because of the misguided ideas that cartoons which adults can enjoy and with surrealism must include vulgarity, graphic violence, and offensive humor (like most of Adult Swim’s lineup). These writers are smart enough to realize that you do not need that for adults to enjoy something. Adventure Time and Regular Show have that crossover popularity which is a key-thing for a kid’s show to have. I wish more children’s shows were as smartly and maturely written as these two are.
Of course, with the good comes the bad. Also like My Little Pony, the online fandom can get a bit too over-the-top as people get a little too into it. I read about people’s love for it, and it makes me wish they could get some perspective over what, let’s face it, a kid’s cartoon at the end of the day. But if that is the price society has to pay for quality programming for children, then it is totally worth it.